Last month I met with local resident Bret Ramsey, who is the long-term producer and host of a very popular community TV show called In Pit Lane, which is on Melbourne’s channel 31. I met with Bret to hear of his concerns about the future of this very important service in Australia—community television.
On 10 September 2014 the Minister for Communications announced his proposal to not renew community television operators’ apparatus licences beyond 2015. To support this proposal, the minister declared that the currently vacant spectrum would be required to test and trial a new broadcasting compression standard that is more efficient and could have the potential to carry more services. However, the problem with this is that community TV would have to make way for these trials to occur. In his announcement, the minister stated that the best outcome for community TV would be to move the entirety of their services to the internet at that time.
I have been told by many people that this move to force community TV online would be devastating, especially when community television in Melbourne is watched by over 300,000 people per month and when community television nationally reaches about three million viewers per month in the capital cities in which it broadcasts. After 20 years of providing a valuable training ground in television to thousands of young people across the nation—including many household names such as Hamish and Andy, Waleed Aly and Rove McManus—it is incredibly disappointing for me to know that the Minister for Communications is forcing community TV stations off the air and onto the internet, presuming that you will be able to access the internet, particularly down my way, at the end of 2015.
Bret Ramsey has advised that taking In Pit Lane off air would be a massive loss. It would be. Since it debuted on TV in 1996, this incredible program has brought Melbourne television viewers the most diverse international, national and local high-performance motoring and motorsport news ever seen on Australian television. In Pit Lane is screened weekly on Melbourne’s Channel 31. It is watched by over 57,000 viewers per week. In Pit Lane is a unique blend of the latest news, interviews and entertainment. It has interviewed people like Mark Webber and Craig Lowndes at the early stages of their careers. It really is something that on a Sunday in particular people will watch, not on the internet but on their televisions. It is a very important program that is basically going to be forced off the air. I think that this is a very retrograde step.
Labor has a very proud record of supporting community television. It is grassroots television. We need to continue it, not force it off the air—and not force In Pit Lane off the air—because we need community television to exist in this country.